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Art & Life: 12 suggestions for breaking through artist’s block

Updated: Apr 12, 2021

Artistic blocks and dry spells are a phenomenon that nearly every artist expereinces at one time or another in life. A recent email from an artist friend of mine inspired me to compile a list of suggestions, based on my own experiences, for getting past personal hurdles and into the studio to create anew.

1. Read more classical literature, or fiction in general. Creativity in writing–describing imagery and emotion through the written word–translates very nicely to mental images and from there, into visual artwork. Well-written books contain beautiful creativity with language and often deal with inspiring ideas and themes.

2. Read the book “Art & Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It’s basically a big career peptalk from artists who know what the struggles of creating are like. I found it very inspiring and encouraging, and then went out and produced my “Rebuilding” series after reading it.

3. Go to more gallery openings and art museums. Even just a quick stroll through a museum can be enough to fill your head with fresh imagery or new ideas, or artists to research further and thus get inspired.

4. Seek out artists you look up to or admire and try reaching out to them via email or other means. If they’re willing, pick their brain, ask their advice.

5. Draw from life! All that’s needed are graphite, paper, and an object or figure placed in front of you. Take all the pressure of creativity and concept out of the equation by simply drawing what you see, accurately, efficiently, like recording data, with no importance placed on the final outcome. Set a time limit if needed. And keep it as simple as possible so that in no more than 5 minutes you can be set up and already drawing. Let your mind go while you simply record visual information. It will jog your “muscle memory” and your artistic instincts will activate after a while, once the creative pump has been primed by the physical act of mark-making.

6. Do “loosening up” exercises like painting or drawing with your canvas or composition upside down, working in 2-value light/dark only, setting a time limit to force yourself into instinctual decisions and spontaneity, fingerpainting or splatter painting or palette-knife painting, etc. Put no emphasis on the quality of the final product, simply get into the act of carefree, unhindered, un-self-conscious mark-making. Through this, various exploratory avenues may likely suggest themselves through ‘happy accidents.’

7. Take an art class, even if it’s something you’re already familiar with. Surrender yourself to the teacher’s process and instruction just for the sake of loosening the restrictive frustrations you’re under, giving yourself the positive experience of ‘a fresh start.’

8. Simplify your life—maybe you’re taking on too many burdens or unsatisfying and daunting life projects, leaving no energy left over for other needs and desires, like making art and expressing yourself. For many people, a complicated or overdramatic social life can take over. Not to mention vices such as intoxication or substance abuse. Learn to set boundaries and achieve balance.

9. Visit another artist’s studio and watch them work. Imagine yourself in their place, picture yourself solving the visual problems they’re currently working with in their piece. This can jumpstart your creative and productive mindset.

10. Experiment with a meditation practice, such as mindfulness of breathing or more inquiry-based methods like Vipassana. Taking the time to clear your mind or simply look deeply into the thoughts that arise can lead to valuable insights or momentary glimpses into fascinating subconscious realms lurking just below the surface of mundane or stress-based thought patterns.

11. Keep a dream journal next to your bed so that it’s easy to write descriptions of the bizarre worlds and situations you encounter in your sleep, immediately upon waking. The free-formed, non-linear nature of the dream state is fertile ground for unique and highly personal creative ideas and symbolism.

12. Travel. Simply put, going somewhere–anywhere–that is outside of your daily routine or environment stimulates the mind and the senses like nothing else. New experiences in different places force us to activate the creative and problem-solving areas of our brains, making the sights, tastes, and smells incredibly poignant to our previously under-stimulated minds. This often translates into powerful impressions, memories, ideas, and inspiration.

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